Losar or Tibetan New Year 2022

Losar or Tibetan New Year is a very special time of year. In 2022, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on March 3rd. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar it is the start of year of the Water Tiger, 2149.

Tibetan New Year Losar butter sculpture decorations

Each year the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling make butter sculptures for Losar.

In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. The year of the Water Tiger ends on February 20, 2023 and the year of  the Water Hare, 2150, begins the following day.

Tibetan New Year Activities

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, Tibetans say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” Losar (ལོ་གསར་) is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.

Here is a snapshot of Losar activities at a large Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in India, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The video was made several years ago, prior to the pandemic. All the  photos were taken by the nuns themselves. If you can’t see the video, click here.

Before Losar

On the 29th day of the outgoing year, called nyi-shu-gu in Tibetan, Tibetans do something like a big spring clean. By cleaning, Tibetans purify their homes and bodies of obstacles, negativity, sickness, and anything unclean.

cleaning before Losar Tibetan New Year

In the days leading up to Losar, cleaning is an important part of New Year’s preparations. The nuns clean their room as well as the nunnery complex. Photo from our archives by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Losar Food

On the night of the 29th, Tibetans eat a special kind of noodle soup called guthuk. This dish, eaten once a year two days before Losar, is part of a ritual to dispel any misfortunes of the past year and to clear the way for a peaceful and auspicious new year. If you want to make it at home, here’s a vegetarian recipe for guthuk.

Vegetarian guthuk from YoWangdu copy

Guthuk is a special noodle soup eaten once a year on the 29th day of the last month of the Tibetan calendar. For a recipe for guthuk and other Tibetan food, visit YoWangdu.com. Photo courtesy of YoWangdu.

Guthuk has at least nine ingredients and contains large dough balls, one for each person eating the soup. Hidden inside each dough ball is an object (or its symbol) such as chilies, salt, wool, rice, and coal. These objects are supposed to represent the nature of the person who receives that particular dough ball. For instance, if one gets a lump of rock salt in a dough ball (or a piece of paper with the Tibetan word for salt on it) this implies that one is a lazy person. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative.

Also on the 29th day, special tormas (ritual figures of flour and butter) are made. After supper, the tormas and the guthuk offered by the nuns are taken outside and and away from the nunnery. The nuns say “dhong sho ma” to mean “Go away. Leave the house” to get rid of all bad omens.

Losar Preparations

Other Losar preparations include making special Tibetan New Year foods such as momos and khapse, Tibetan cookies or biscuits. The khapse are made a few days before Losar and are distributed among the nuns and staff.

making khapse for Losar Tibetan New Year

A Tibetan nun fries khapse at Dolma Ling. Khapse are deep fried biscuits that are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations. The most common shape is the small twisted rectangular pieces which are served to guests. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The next day is called Namkhang which is the day when houses are decorated. Special ritual offerings are also prepared for the day and these are said in the prayer hall.

Tibetan New Year Losar Chemar box barley and tsampa Tibetan Nuns Project

A chemar box for Tibetan New Year made by the nuns. This ornately carved box contains roasted barley and tsampa (roasted barley flour). It is decorated with butter sculptures made by the nuns. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring prosperity in the new year.

Also, as part of the Losar or Tibetan New Year preparations, the nuns make butter sculptures to help decorate the Losar altar.

Tibetan butter sculptures for Losar Tibetan New Year

Elaborate and colorful butter sculptures of flowers and Buddhist sacred symbols decorate the offering table for Losar or Tibetan New Year. These sculptures were made by the nuns at Dolma Ling.

Losar Day

On the day of Losar itself, Tibetans get up early in the morning and wish each other “Tashi Delek” or Happy New Year and then go to the prayer hall for prayers. Part of the prayer ceremony includes tsok, the offering of blessed food including khapse biscuits and fruit.

Here’s an audio recording of the nuns’ Losar prayers courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At the end of the puja or prayer ceremony, all the nuns line up to pay hommage at the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to the nunnery’s leaders. They offer white kataks, ceremonial Tibetan prayers scarves.

Young Tibetan Buddhist nuns holding Losar khapse

Young nuns hold large deep-fried Losar pastries called bhungue amcho or khugo. This particular type of khapse are known as Donkey Ears because of their shape and size. These large, elongated, hollow tubes of crispy pastry are stacked up on the Losar altar and are given as food offerings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Visiting others is a special part of Losar. Normally, people visit each to wish each other a happy new year and to drink cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea. However, due to the pandemic, all Tibetans living in India have been advised to take special care this year and moderate their Losar activities to keep people safe from COVID.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns offering at Losar Tibetan New Year

Two nuns carry a chemar bo, an open, decorated box with one half filled with chemar, made of roasted barley flour or tsampa and the other half filled with roasted barley. People are invited to take a pinch of the chemar and then offer a blessing with three waves of the hand in the air, then taking a nibble. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Hanging Prayer Flags at Losar

It is customary to hang new sets of prayer flags at Losar. Old prayer flags from the previous year are taken down and burned with bunches of fragrant pine and juniper. New prayer flags are hung. If you need new prayer flags you can order them from the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. The prayer flags are made and blessed by the nuns at Dolma Ling.

burning old Tibetan prayer flags

At Losar, old prayer flags are removed and burned and new ones are hung at the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

On the third day of Tibetan New Year, a special incense burning offering called sang-sol is held. Prior to the pandemic, many nuns would travel to visit their family members at Losar, while some nuns would remain at the nunnery and take part in this special event.

The nuns gather in a line or circle and each nun takes some tsampa (roasted barley flour) in her right hand as an offering. The nuns raise their arms simultaneously twice and then, on the third time, they throw the tsampa high into the air shouting “Losar Tashi Delek”.

Happy Losar Tibetan New Year 2022

 

P.S. It’s not too late to purchase the 2022 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar with stunning images of the lives of the Tibetan nuns, ritual dates, and the Tibetan lunar calendar.

Tibetan Windhorse Prayer Flags

About Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Flags

Tibetan prayer flags are used to promote peace, wisdom, and compassion. The bright cloth flags are printed with auspicious symbols, invocations, prayers, and mantras. Tibetans believe that the prayers will be spread by the wind, bringing goodwill and auspiciousness to all beings.

Tibetan prayer flagsThe hanging of prayer flags is a tradition dating back thousands of years to ancient Buddhist India and to the Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet. Tibetans hang prayer flags at mountain passes and at temples, stupas, and other sacred structures so their prayers can be released.

Sadly, Chinese authorities have recently ordered the destruction of prayer flags in many areas of Tibet in what has been called “one of China’s most direct assaults to date on visible symbols of Tibetan culture and religious belief”.

Meaning of the Tibetan Prayer Flag Colors

Tibetan prayer flags are rich in symbolic meaning. The flags come in sets of five and are hung left to right in this specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Each of the colors represents an element. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

windhorse prayer flags, A Tibetan Buddhist nun hangs windhorse prayer flags at the nunnery

A Tibetan Buddhist nun hangs windhorse prayer flags at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to hang prayer flags, but they should be handled with respect. As you hang them, you should have good motivation, keeping in mind the flags’ ultimate purpose to spread positivity far and wide.

The square-shaped, horizontally strung prayer flags are the most common, but there are also vertical prayer flags mounted on poles.

Windhorse Prayer Flags

The wind horse or lungta is the most prevalent symbol used on Tibetan prayer flags. These are the most popular prayer flags sold in our online store. All the prayer flags sold by the Tibetan Nuns Project are handmade and blessed by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India. Proceeds from the sales help fund education, food, shelter, clothing and health care for over 700 nuns at seven nunneries in India.

In the center of the windhorse prayer flag is the image of a powerful horse called a lungta or རླུང་རྟ in Tibetan. On its back, the horse bears three flaming jewels which are the cornerstones of Tibetan philosophical tradition. These jewels represent the Buddha, the dharma (the Buddhist teachings), and the sangha (the Buddhist community). The horse (ta orརྟ in Tibetan) is a symbol of speed and the transformation of bad fortune to good fortune.

red windhorse Tibetan prayer flag showing symbols and prayers

Surrounding the windhorse or lungta are mantras or prayers written in Tibetan. Clockwise starting from the top left corner of the prayer flags are images of four powerful animals, also known as the Four Dignities: the garuda, the dragon, the snow lion, and the tiger.

Together the Four Dignities represent the attitudes and sacred qualities that Bodhisattvas develop on the path to enlightenment – qualities such as fearlessness (garuda), gentle power (dragon), clear awareness (snow lion), and confidence (tiger).

On both sides of the prayer flag are the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism which represent the offerings made to the Buddha when he attained enlightenment:

  • The Precious Parasol
  • The Vase of Great Treasures
  • The White Conch Shell
  • The Victory Banner
  • The Two Golden Fish
  • The Lotus Flower
  • The Eternal Knot
  • The Eight Spoked Wheel

Windhorse prayer flags made by the nuns are available in three sizes. You can buy Windhorse Prayer flags here.

Hanging prayer flags at your home or business brings a feeling of harmony and calls to mind the teachings of the Buddha. Proper motivation is important when raising prayer flags. You should hang them with the wish that all beings everywhere will find happiness and be free from suffering.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays in 2022

Here is a list of some of the major Tibetan Buddhist holidays in 2022, as well as some other important dates in the Tibetan calendar.

Tibetan Nuns Project calendar, Tibetan Buddhist hiolidays 2022

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project publishes a calendar with the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and other important ritual dates, plus the phases of the moon, inspirational quotes, and major US and Canadian holidays. This beautiful 2022 calendar is available from our online store, along with prayer flags, incense, malas and much more. By purchasing the calendar, you help provide education, food, shelter, and health care for over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in northern India. Thank you!

March 3, 2022: Losar, Tibetan New Year

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan butter sculpture, Losar, Tibetan New Year

Tibetan Buddhist nuns make butter sculptures for Losar Tibetan New Year 2020. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team.

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a very special time of year. In 2022, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on March 3rd and is the start of year of the Water Tiger, 2149. In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. The year of the Water Tiger ends on February 20, 2023 and the year of  the Water Hare, 2150, begins the following day.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, prayer flags, hanging prayer flags

It is customary to hang new prayer flags and to burn incense at Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The animals in the Tibetan calendar are somewhat like those in the Chinese zodiac and are in the following order: Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Boar. The five elements are in this order: Wood, Fire, Earth, Iron, and Water.

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home or room from top to bottom.

Losar, khapse, Tibetan New Year

Nuns at Dolma Ling making khapse biscuits for Losar. These deep-fried Tibetan cookies in different shapes and sizes are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns, 2020.

After that, the Losar or “new year” is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives. Special food is prepared such as khapse and a noodle soup called guthuk. See this recipe for vegetarian guthuk. Tibetans hang new prayer flags and also burn incense and juniper bows to welcome the new year.

March 10 and March 12: Tibetan Uprising Day

March 10th, Dharamsala, March 10th, March 10th demonstration, Tibetan nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Uprising Day

Nuns, monks, and lay people hold Tibetan flags and banners as they take part in a demonstration in Dharamsala, India to mark March 10th, Tibetan Uprising Day. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

While not a Tibetan Buddhist holiday, March 10th is a very important date in the Tibetan calendar. This year marks the 63rd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. Around the world, Tibetans and their supporters remember and pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet’s struggle. An estimated one million Tibetans have perished and 98% of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed under the Chinese occupation.

In 1950, Chinese Communist forces invaded Tibet. On March 10, 1959, Tibetans attempted to take back their country with an uprising in Lhasa. The protests were crushed with brutal force.

March 12th, 2022 marks the 63rd anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Uprising. Following the National Uprising Day on March 10th, thousands of Tibetan women gathered in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa to demonstrate for Tibetan independence.

Read this blog post to learn more about these important dates and why Tibetans are in exile.

June 14, 2022: Saga Dawa Düchen

The most important month in the Tibetan calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th lunar month which in 2022 runs from May 31st to June 29th. The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Tibetan Buddhists. In 2022, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on June 14th.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Saga Dawa, reading words of the Buddha

Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Over the past two years, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the nuns had to observe physical distancing while reciting. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions, this occasion is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. Tibetan Buddhists make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, and compassion to accumulate greater merit. Tibetans believe that during this month, the merits of one’s actions are multiplied. On the 15th day of the month, the merits of one’s actions are hugely increased.

Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns reading the kangyur for Saga Dawa

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, during the hoy month of Saga Dawa in 2021. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Over the past two years, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the nuns had to adapt their regular celebrations and rituals for Saga Dawa.

July 13, 2022: Universal Prayer Day

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, burning juniper

As on other auspicious occasions, such as Tibetan New Year and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday, nuns burn fragrant juniper boughs. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team

Universal Prayer Day or Dzam Ling Chi Sang falls on the 15th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, so in June or July. It is a time for spiritual cleansing. Tibetans hang prayer flags and burn juniper twigs.

July 6: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Birthday

His Holiness the Dalai LamaAround the world, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th will be celebrated with happiness and prayers for his good health and long life. This year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 87. The nuns will pray and make special offerings of tsok, khataks (prayer scarves), and sangsol (incense offering) to His Holiness. It’s a day of celebration with special food, such as Tibetan momos, the steamed savory dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on Tibetan Buddhist holidays.

August 1, 2022: Buddha’s First Teaching

Called Chokhor Düchen, this important day falls on the fourth day of the sixth lunar month. This day is the third “great occasion” (düchen) in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. It celebrates the first teaching by the historical Buddha, named Siddhartha at birth and commonly known as Shakyamuni Buddha.

On this day, over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha gave the teaching of the Four Noble Truths in Sarnath, shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. This event is known as the “turning of the wheel of dharma”. In Theravada traditions, this event is remembered on Dhamma Day, also known as Asalha Puja, and is generally marked on the full moon of the eighth lunar month. To celebrate Chokhor Düchen, Tibetan Buddhists make pilgrimages to holy places, offer incense, and hang prayer flags.​​

November 15, 2022: Buddha’s Descent from Heaven

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Buddhist holidays, praying, Olivier Adam, Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist nuns praying. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Another “great occasion” or düchen in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar is Lhabab Düchen. This date commemorates the Buddha’s descent from the heavenly realm following his visit there to teach his deceased mother. Lhabab Düchen occurs on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month, according to the Tibetan calendar.

On this day, the karmic effects of our actions are multiplied millions of times. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, people engage in virtuous activities and prayer to gain merit and to mark this special occasion.

February 21, 2023: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

butter sculptures, Losar, Tibetan Buddhist holidays, Tibetan New Year, offerings, Tibetan Nuns Project

Butter sculptures and offerings made by the Tibetan nuns for Losar, Tibetan New Year.

Losar in 2023 falls on February 21st and will be the Year of the Water Hare, 2150 according to the Tibetan calendar.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays in 2022 and the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar

It is still possible to order copies of our 2022 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar. It’s a great way to keep track of the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and all the special events throughout the year. The calendar includes the dates of the Tibetan lunar calendar, .important Tibetan holidays, and special ritual days for Tibetan Buddhist practices. The cost is $12 plus shipping and your purchase helps support over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India.

Update on Life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in 2021

Despite the pandemic, the nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery have all been well and the academic year has gone smoothly. They recently send these photos and an update on life there. Thank you to everyone who has sponsored a nun at Sherab Choeling! We hope you enjoy this post about daily life at this remote nunnery.

snow on the mountains above Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

Fresh snow on the mountains above Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti. The nuns took this photo on October 21st, 2021 and it also shows the newly paved road leading up to the nunnery. The road enhancement was done by government.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Spiti Valley of northern India is one of the seven Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It is a non-sectarian nunnery that recognizes the beauty and value in all Buddhist traditions.

daily life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The nuns’ daily routine is to have prayer sessions in the morning, followed by regular classes and internal debate sessions. Nunnery kitchen and cleaning duties are shuffled amongst the nuns.

Currently 62 nuns live there. The youngest nun at the nunnery is around 13 while the eldest nuns are in their 60s.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practice debating

The nuns practice debating in the sun-filled corridor of the nunnery. Learning traditional monastic debate is an essential component of working towards higher academic degrees, such as the Geshema degree, equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

The nunnery is very secluded and lies in the village of Morang at 4,000 meters altitude. It was built in 1995 by 20 nuns and their teacher to address the problem of the inadequate education of women in the region.

mealtime at Sherab Choeling Nunnery, update from Sherab Choeling
Traditionally women in this region have suffered from many social and educational disadvantages. Many have been deprived of any kind of education, and this institute is the first in Spiti to provide women with the opportunity to overcome these disadvantages.

Tibetan nun cooks simple food

One of the nuns on kitchen duty cooks flatbreads on the stove that also serves to help heat the room. The nuns have a simple vegetarian diet.

Many young girls seek admission to Sherab Choeling, but due to lack of facilities and sponsors, it is not possible for all to gain entrance. The Tibetan Nuns Project helps by raising awareness, finding sponsors for the nuns, and helping them to fundraise for the further development of the institute.

The nuns at follow a 17-year study program. The curriculum is designed to educate the nuns in Buddhist philosophy, meditation, Tibetan language and literature, plus a basic education in English, Hindi, and math. The broad education is intended to provide the nuns with necessary skills to educate future generations of nuns and the communities from which they come.

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking

A Tibetan Buddhist nuns makes what looks like tea and tsampa (roasted barley flour) using an improvised whisk made of thin sticks.

The senior most nuns are in Uma class. The nunnery’s two philosophy teachers have been very encouraging to the nuns and and have been telling them to prepare themselves mentally to achieve the Geshema degree.

update from Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The nuns have a simple vegetarian diet and grow some of their own food. The nuns have three female cows which are cared for by the nuns. They now have three greenhouses and had a good crop this year of radishes and spinach. Since the greenhouses are so successful, two nuns each from Pin Nunnery and Khowang Nunnery came to Sherab Choling to learn how to grow vegetables and take care of the greenhouse.

Also this year, the nuns set up an underground water tank to irrigate their fields. In 2019 there were reports of a water crisis in the Spiti Valley from inadequate snowfall and retreating glaciers. Lakes, ponds, and streams that once helped irrigate fields are drying up.

update from Sherab Coeling Nunnery

Nuns lining up for a simple meal at Sherab Choeling Nunnery.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Spiti praying

Morning prayers by the light of solar lamps at Sherab Choeling Nunnery. The nuns are making the Mandala Offering Mudra, a complex sacred hand gesture that is a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings.

New Buddha statue at Sherab Choeling Nunnery 2021

The nuns are very grateful to Shaptung Rinpoche who sponsored the cost of making a seven-foot Lord Buddha statue for Sherab Choeling. It was from Tso Pema and the nuns were able to get it moved to the nunnery in October 2021. The statue is now in the big hall which is being painted and will be used in future as a simple community prayer hall.

first snowfall at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

First snowfall this season at Sherab Choeling Nunnery. The photo was taken by the nuns  in the early morning on October 21st, 2021.

Daily life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

The nuns share chores. Spiti is a cold desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas in north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. The name “Spiti” means “the middle land”, that is the land between Tibet and India.

If you are interested in seeing more photos of life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery you can see these blog posts:
Slideshows and Updates from all the Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries
Daily Life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti Valley India
Life at a remote Tibetan Buddhist Nunnery in Spiti [with photos and audio of chanting]

A little goes a long way

A little goes a long way to help Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

In this blog post, we want to share with you the cost of basic food items at the largest nunnery we support in India so that you can see the impact of your support. In this blog, we take you inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to 347 nuns plus staff.

Rice

Rice is a staple food for the nuns in all the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries we support in India. One of the most common meals for Tibetans in exile is rice and dal. This simple dish is nutritious and inexpensive. A huge bag of rice costs 640 Indian rupees or just under $9. Each day at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the nuns use about 1.5 bags of rice to feed close to 400 nuns and staff.

$12/day feeds rice to 350 nuns

Tibetan Buddhist nun checking rice

A nun on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling checks rice. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Flour

Flour, like rice, is used daily at the nunneries to make bread, noodles, and steamed buns. An 88 pound (40 kg) bag of flour costs just over $12 and is enough to feed over 300 people.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns in kitchen using flour Brian Harris copy

This summer, donors kindly helped the nuns at the two largest nunneries we support, Dolma Ling and Shugsep, purchase dough-making machines. Until now, the nuns would have to knead dough by hand.

$12/day provides 350 nuns with flour

Potatoes

All the nunneries have a vegetarian diet and potatoes are important staple food. Just a small monthly donation to the Tibetan Nuns Project feeds hundreds of nuns in a day. For instance, a 110 lb (50 kg) bag of potatoes costs just $14 and will feed a lot of nuns. We are extremely grateful to everyone who sponsors a nun and also to those donors who give monthly at any amount they choose. As you see, even $5 a month helps feed hundreds of nuns.

$14 buys 110 lbs of potatoes

cost of food, Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling peeling potatoes, cost of basic food items, peeling potatoes

A nun on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery pauses from peeling potatoes. There are about 350 nuns at the nunnery so that means a lot of peeling! Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Onions

Some Buddhists follow a strict diet that avoids aliums including onions, garlic, and chives. However, Tibetan Buddhists do use onions and garlic in their cooking, especially in exile in India and Nepal. A 55 lb bag of onions (25 kg) costs $10.

$10 buys 55 lbs of onions

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute chopping onions ⓒ Robin Groth

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute chopping onions ⓒ Robin Groth

With COVID, the nuns have not been shopping in the same way as before because it was unsafe to go to the market. Instead, during the lockdown times, they had supplies such as vegetables delivered to the gates of the nunnery where they would be sanitized and then stored in the storage room shown below.

cost of basic food, vegetables in storeroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute copy

Vegetables in the storeroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India. The nunnery is home to about 350 Tibetan Buddhist nuns and they have a vegetarian diet, so lots of vegetables are needed.

Thank you again for helping the nuns!

a little goes a long way, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Bags of vegetables outside the gate of Dolma Ling Nunnery during the COVID lockdown in 2020

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar: Construction and Bus

Dorjee Zong, An Ancient High-Altitude Nunnery

Dorjee Zong Nunnery is one of the oldest centers in pursuit of monastic education in Zanskar, an arid, high-altitude region of northern India. Founded in the 14th century, it has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some famed for reaching high levels of realization and attainment.

Young girls studying at Dorjee Zong Nunnery photo by Olivier Adam copy

Photo of young girls studying in the single old classroom at Dorjee Zong. The girls and women from this area have traditionally been given far less education than boys and men and were often removed from school as early as Grade 4 if they were sent to school at all. The nunnery gives them a chance for an education that they would not have otherwise. Photo by Olivier Adam

The Tibetan Nuns Project accepted the nunnery into its sponsorship program in 2009. Until recently, the buildings at this 700-year-old nunnery were very basic. There was just one classroom and one main building that was used for everything.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery Zanskar by Olivier Adam

In the past, the nuns at Dorjee Zong did not have the opportunity to engage in rigorous philosophical studies, but their education program is improving. This photo courtesy of Olivier Adam was taken before the expansion project started in 2019.

Dorjee Zong is now going through an exciting transition and major construction project thanks to generous donors. In 2019 building began on:

  • A nunnery school with seven classrooms to accommodate 50 students
  • A new housing block
  • A new kitchen, dining hall, and storeroom
  • A prayer hall
  • An office block
  • New toilet and bathroom building

Construction Continues During Pandemic

The project is nearing completion. Despite the pandemic, this summer work continued on the construction of the new buildings, including the housing blocks, the kitchen, the classrooms and so on.

Expansion project Dorjee Zong Nunnery Zanskar summer 2021

The multi-purpose two-story building has 10 rooms to provide accommodation for 50 students. It contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall. Notice the newly added traditional wooden window frames.

In the summer of 2021, 20 workers were employed on the project. Although the construction season at this altitude is very short, there was a lot of work done including:

  • Plastering of the exterior and interior second story of the main building
  • Carpentry work for the dining hall, kitchen, classroom, library, and prayer hall
  • Making cupboards, chairs, tables, and little study tables for the young nuns
  • Plumbing for the kitchen and bathrooms
  • Windows for the classroom, staffroom, and second story
Construction at Dorjee Zong Nunnery 2021, Report on Dorjee Zong

The old nunnery buildings can be seen in the distance. At this altitude, the construction season is short.

New School Bus In Action

In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5.

school bus Dorjee Zong Zanskar

Here’s a photo of the new school bus in action. As you can see, it has a capacity of about 20 seats so serves not only the nuns but also other girls. This is important in a region where girls traditionally have little access to education.

The bus is providing a wonderful service not just for the nuns but also for young girls going to and from school. In 2020, due to the pandemic, the Indian schools were closed for some time. Now they are open again and the nuns are going back and forth to school using the bus.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the expansion project and the bus!

Armchair travel to seven nunneries

Where Your Gifts Help

Your generosity supports over 700 nuns in 7 different nunneries in northern India from all religious orders of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

ibetan Nuns Project nunneries, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India

Map showing the 6 nunneries and one nuns’ college in India where your donations to the Tibetan Nuns Project support nuns.

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. The Tibetan Nuns Project aims to elevate the educational standards and the position of women.

The majority of Tibetan Buddhist nuns left Tibet because of the repressive political situation. In the 1980s and 1990s in particular, a steady stream of nuns arrived in Dharamsala in the Himalayan region of northern India seeking refuge. These brave and dedicated women wished only to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. Ranging in age from early teens to mid-80s, the nuns came from all parts of Tibet and from many different backgrounds.

Your support also helps women from the remote and impoverished border areas of India such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, and Arunachal Pradesh. Women and girls from these areas have traditionally been given far less education than men and boys. Your generosity gives them a chance for education. Finally, your donations also support some nuns who are not living in nunneries, but who prefer to live on their own. They are often older nuns interested in meditative retreat rather than in learning higher Buddhist philosophy.

Seven Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries in India

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is a non-sectarian nunnery that was built and is fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It was the first institute dedicated specifically to higher education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. The nunnery is now home to 247 nuns and is a model educational institution.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, of the Nyingma tradition, was built and fully supported by the Project, and traces its lineage back to some of the greatest female teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. Shugsep is home to about 92 nuns.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute in Himachal Pradesh, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Geden Choeling Nunnery, of the Gelug tradition, is the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala and is home to about 178 nuns. It is located on the wooded slopes of McLeod Ganj in Upper Dharamsala. The nunnery had absorbed a steady stream of refugee nuns since 1975.

Geden Choelng Nunnery in Dharamsala, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Tilokpur Nunnery, of the Kagyu tradition, is home to about 89 nuns. Built near the cave of the great Indian yogi Tilopa, Tilokpur Nunnery (also known as Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling) overlooks a small town about 20 miles from Dharamsala. It was founded in 1966 by Mrs. Freda Bedi, a British nun who was ordained by the previous Karmapa.

Tilokpur Nunnery

Sakya College for Nuns is not a nunnery but a college for nuns. Home to almost 60 nuns, it was inaugurated in 2009 in Mundawala near Dehradun. The college offers a full course of studies followed by the monks at Sakya College.

Sakya College for Nuns near Dehradun

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in a non-sectarian nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley. It has about 62 resident nuns who pursue a rigorous course of study, the first of its kind for women of that region.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar is an ancient nunnery dating back to the 14th century. It has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization and attainment. It is home to about 20 nuns. The nunnery is now going through a very important and exciting transition with a major construction project started in 2019 to build new classrooms, a housing block, kitchen, storerooms and more.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

Other nuns and nunneries that we help include nuns not living in nunneries and nuns on retreat.

Happy Nuns in the Dolma Ling Kitchen

Cooking for about 250 nuns a day is a challenge, especially during the pandemic. This spring, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute asked for your help to buy an electric rice cooker, a dough-making machine, a refrigerator, and two new gas burners.

The kitchen equipment has arrived now and the nuns are happy because their daily tasks are safer and easier.

Helping the Nuns Cook Rice Safely

new electric rice cooker at Dolma Ling Nunnery

“We are very happy with the new rice cooker. Now we just have to wash the rice, put it in the rice cooker, add water, close the lid, and press the cook button. So easy and safe! We don’t have to worry about the hot rice water,” said one nun. It also saves on fuel costs and produces better, more nutritious rice.

Venerable Samten Dolma, the nun in charge of the kitchen this year, said, “Before, I had to check regularly to see if the rice was cooked perfectly or not. Now, with the new rice cooker, I don’t have to worry about rice being undercooked or soggy.”

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice at Dolma Ling

“The rice is so delicious now and every time it is evenly cooked.” The new rice cooker can cook up to 77 pounds of rice safely and efficiently. The nuns eat rice every day, so it’s a huge help to them.

“Every day five nuns have to prepare a day’s meal,” said a nun on kitchen duty. “In the morning while preparing lunch, we used to have two nuns in charge of the rice and three nuns to cut and prepare the lunchtime vegetables. But now, with the rice cooker, it is so much easier. All five nuns can cut and prepare vegetables for lunch. While we eat our lunch, we can use the dough machine to prepare the dough for the evening. Now we have more time on our hands.”

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice

With the old way of cooking rice, the nuns were always in danger of being scalded by the boiling water and steam. Detail of photo by Brian Harris.

Before the nuns got the rice cooker, it took a long  time to cook rice in a huge caldron over one of the two large gas burners. When the rice was half cooked, the excess water had to be poured off – a very risky operation. It took two strong nuns to pick up the pot and carry it across the kitchen to the drain. This operation had to be done quickly and carefully to avoid scalding from the boiling water and losing the steam.

Having the new electric rice cooker means that the rice cooks more evenly and keeps more of its nutritional qualities so it is better for the nuns’ health. 

The New Dough Maker

Each day the nuns on kitchen duty prepare traditional Tibetan bread and steamed buns for hundreds of nuns. Until now, the nuns had to mix the dough by hand which was very labor intensive and less hygienic than using a machine.

before and after, Tibetan Buddhist nuns using new dough machine

“The dough machine saves us a lot of time and energy! I never knew it was this easy to knead dough.” The nuns bought a 55-lb (25 kg) capacity dough maker. Before photos by Brian Harris; after photos by Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

On special occasions, the nuns make paratha (fried flatbreads) and khapse which are fried Tibetan biscuits. At Losar, Tibetan New Year, every member of the nunnery gets a large bag of khapse to celebrate Tibetan New Year so preparing large quantities is a great deal of work.

making dough, Dolma Ling Nunnery, inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Before, as in this photo, the nuns had to knead dough by hand. Now mixing dough by machine takes only 15 to 20 minutes, so it is much easier to prepare multiple batches for bread, buns, and noodles. Normally the nuns up to 20 kg (44 pounds) of flour at a time.

New Refrigerator Saves Costs and Prevents Waste

Dolma Ling’s refrigerator was very old and broke down in the spring. Thanks to our supporters, the nuns were able to buy a new fridge in time to store food during the summer heat.

A nun shows the new refrigerator at Dolma Ling

When the old refrigerator broke down, you kindly helped the nuns buy a new one, just in time to keep food from spoiling during the intense summer heat. The temperature in the kitchen regularly reached 97 degrees.

The nuns follow a vegetarian diet. Without a fridge, vegetables, fruits, milk, butter, and tofu quickly rot. It is not possible for the nuns to get fresh supplies of everything daily so they need to buy for more than one day. They are happy to have the fridge to safely store perishable vegetables and fruit to avoid wastage and save money.

Without the fridge, they would be restricted in what they could buy and their diet would have been more monotonous. Especially during the pandemic, everyone looks forward to lunchtime. Now, the nuns can use different vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach which need to be kept chilled. With the new fridge, the nuns and staff are healthier and happier!

Thank you for your support!

Tibetan Butter Lamps

It is good to offer Tibetan butter lamps whenever you feel there is a need for more light and hope in the world.

Offering butter lamps is deeply ingrained in the Tibetan tradition. Part of daily Tibetan practice, people light butter lamps for many occasions. It is common to offer butter lamps for those who have passed away or for those who are sick. Butter lamps are also lit for happy occasions like birthdays, marriages, and for one’s wishes to come true. Tibetans light butter lamps on sacred days in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar, such as the 10th, 15th and 25th day of each lunar month, as well as during the holy month of Saga Dawa.

Tibetan butter lamps, offering butter lamps, lighting butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns lighting butter lamps. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Tibetan butter lamps are a common feature of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the Himalayas. Traditionally, Tibetans used clarified butter from dri (female yaks), but in exile they use ghee.

offering Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns add ghee and cotton wicks to hundreds of Tibetan butter lamps in preparation for a puja for someone who is sick. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Usually during morning prayers, Tibetan families offer a butter lamp and water bowls as part of their household shrine or altar. Part of the symbolism of lighting butter lamps is to dispel darkness and ignorance. Buddhist teachings consider ignorance as the source of suffering in the world.

Offering Tibetan Butter Lamps

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to sponsor butter lamps or prayers by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

If you, someone you love or even strangers are suffering, you can pay for butter lamps to be lit or prayers to be said for them via the Tibetan Nuns Project. The cost to light 100 butter lamps is $10. There are many types of pujas which you can request from the nuns.

When requesting a puja or prayers from the Tibetan Nuns Project, please provide information about the purpose of the prayer and who they are for.

Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan nuns inside the butter lamp house at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The building in set apart from the rest of the nunnery to prevent fires. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Lighting butter lamps is a spiritual practice. The entire process is carried out in a meditative and devout manner. When you sponsor the lighting of butter lamps, you also earn merit for your generosity and compassion.